July 2008

Okay. Still not over the penis thing, and apparently it’s got nothing to do with whether I’m getting laid or not.*

Actually, that doesn’t surprise me. As weird as this sounds, and as much derisive laughter as I deserve for uttering it, there’s something oddly non-sexual about these. They do not fill me with lust or anything like that. But because they’re penises, they’re kinda…iconic. For just a moment, I Have Your Complete Attention.** It’s eyegrabbing, and it’s funny, but I don’t think it’s really all that sexual, and a fair number of people commenting had a similar response.

Part of the reason I didn’t want to use the frog, however, was because as soon as you add something in there that people can identify with, it GETS sexual. They’re the frog, sitting on a penis, and dude, c’mon. That’s just…err…yeah.

Nobody identifies with the butterfly. The butterfly is pretty, but it’s not a PERSON.

My latest sketches are all penises with fish. Originally I had thought that the line was vertebrates, but I don’t find myself identifying with the fish in the sketches, so maybe it’s not about backbones. I just know that the fish are a kind of…decorative thing, like a butterfly…and the frog is a person. Is it about limbs? Lungs? Faces? (I suspect it’s faces–the profile of a fish is an alien thing, one flat eye and a grimacing fixed mouth, the face of a frog has two eyes and a smile.)

Non-sexual sexual imagery. Hey, if it worked for Georgia O’Keefe…

*Just trust me on this one.

**I don’t have anything useful to DO with it, but I do have your attention.

Head + Desk

Women in the audience…d’ya ever see a guy attempting to defend feminism…and get this urge to tap ’em on the shoulder and say “Um…please. On behalf of my gender, just….stop now. Please.  We have plenty of idiots already, your services are not required.”

Mind you, I suppose every group gets occasionally embarrassed by their allies. I just wish that there was an “you must be at least this coherent to ride this ride” function on debate.

Drumroll please…

So I have a big announcement to make, and for once it has nothing to do with books, writing, comics, or reviews.

My chigger bites have finally stopped itching.

No, okay, that’snot it. Although trust me, for a good chunk of last week, as far as I was concerned, that was the most important thing that could possibly happen to me.

No, my lease is up come September, and…to the surprise of hardly anybody…I’ll be moving in with Kevin. It’ll have been eight months* by that point, and since we do not seem to be getting any less sickening, it only makes sense. Granted that neither of us can get to sleep for beans when separated, it’s practically self-defense. To say nothing of the savings on gas money.**

We’d been talking about it off and on for a month or two–usually in cautious trying-not-to-scare-the-other-person terms like “When you move in–err, I mean, if you move in–not that I’m assuming anything, but, uh–” and my personal favorite “You know, we could just change your bio here to “Ursula Vernon lives in Pittsboro with her partner and two dogs and a whole lotta cats…” (Kevin is not a particularly subtle man. This is good, because I take hints about as well as an injured water buffalo.)

We figured Anthrocon was the real test. If, after three days of high stress in (for him) an alien environment, plus two ten-hour car trips, we could still stand each other, it was meant to be. (And yeah, I was a trifle worried–cons are REALLY stressful, and the full flower of furry fandom has knocked many a geek back on their heels.) That monday morning I came out of the shower, yawning, and he looked up from the laptop and said “Okay, for next year we’re getting you a more efficient con kit….” and that, as they say, was that.

His kids, which he has on alternate weeks, like me for some unfathomable reason–possibly because I play video games and can be prevailed upon to look at and comment on Pokemon–and greeted the notion with enthusiasm. (His ex-wife didn’t, but she doesn’t actually get a say in the matter.) Living with kids will definitely require an adjustment period, and it’s obviously a sign that I am insanely in love that I am considering it, but the time spent with them has been fine so far, so I’m not all that worried.

(God, I MUST be crazy in love…)

Plus his beagle appears to be adopting me. God help us all.

So hopefully it should work out well. Of course, there’s a lot of work between now and then–in addition to the standard moving, which is always a crisis, his house needs a good clean-and-purge, so that one of the spare bedrooms can be cleaned out and turned into a studio prior to move-in (the most likely candidate has small-child-bedroom wallpaper, which has got to go…) And that all gets to happen while I am trying to hammer out Dragonbreath illustrations for Penguin, followed immediately by the script for Dragonbreath II: Curse of the Were-Weiners.

But that’s okay. If there weren’t at least one crisis, it wouldn’t be a move.

Also, his uncle Roy loaned me a scrollsaw over the weekend, so once we get that set up in Kevin’s garage, and a few lessons in its use, I can tackle those random-masonite-shapes inspirations when they hit me. He thoughtfully provided a few sample shapes already. Including a “mushroom.” Heh heh heh. (Kevin greeted this loan with the stark terror that me and power tools deserve, but I maintain that if someone’ll show me how to do it, I am more than capable of not killing myself. Probably. Roy, possibly displaying a latent druidic streak, believes that all woodworking projects require a blood sacrifice, so was largely unconcerned about the possibility. I can understand this.)

*I am still not sure if it feels like it’s been that long or not. It feels more like somewhere between a couple of months and a couple of years. I simultaneously want to go “What? It’s been THAT long?” and “What? It’s only been THAT long?”

**And while “separated for a week” sex is fantastic, it’s also very high-impact. I’m not sure if my back will hold until the end of September.


So Kevin comes over, and I come out of the bathroom to find him staring at the painting. You know, the 18 x 36 penis painting.

“I think it needs something still,” I said, ignoring the way he stared from his camera phone to the painting and back again, trying to decide whether to inflict photos on the world. “I don’t think it’s quite done.”

He tried to be helpful. “…a little winged frog perching on top of one of them?”

“That would just be weird.”

Once he stopped laughing, he managed to say “THAT would be weird? HAVE YOU LOOKED AT YOUR ART?”

I attempted to convey, mostly through hand gestures and stammering and giggling, that for some inexplicable reason, giant penises were okay, but putting a frog on top of one was just wrong.


“I dunno. I was thinking maybe more pink. Although I like the fade to blue at the bottom. Sort of…penises in the mist….”

He lost it again. (I love this moment, where the person I am talking to is fully aware of the absurdity of the conversation, and yet has one foot far enough in my weird little world that they’re actually trying to come up with helpful suggestions. This is a beautiful thing that my friends occasionally do, and I love it dearly.)

Once he calmed down–it took a bit–he suggested a butterfly. Which was actually exactly right for the spot.

“Yes! A butterfly! That’s perfect!”

“So, the butterfly is okay?”

“Yes. Now, a vertebrate, THAT would just be strange. But a butterfly is great.”

What? A vertebrate WOULD have been strange….

Narrative Urges

The paint is drying on the rather loose 18 x 36 of giant blue penises, and I find myself wallowing in the introspection that comes when you’ve got a show on the horizon, and you aren’t working on it, so you wallow because if you’re THINKING about art, that’s sort of like doing something, right?

I think the problem is that I like my own art fine, but my art is not the kind of art I like. If that makes any sense.

See, my art–if you’ll indulge me a moment in naval-gazing–is basically narrative. I’m really less an artist than a storyteller. Art, writing, doesn’t matter. It’s all about the weird little story. The vast majority of my paintings are basically highly elaborate single panel comics. (If I needed any proof of that, I need look no farther than the constant refrain “Will it have the little stories with it?”) I’m a reasonable competent painter, sure, some days I’m even better than competent* but if there’s any brilliance to the art, it lies in the concepts and the stories, not neccessarily in the renderings.

The complexity of the story varies, of course. Some of them are wrapped up neatly in one line. Some of them take a paragraph. A few of them–Donkey & Goldfish I stands out in my mind–obviously have a helluva lot going on, a complicated snarl of narrative that, years later, I still don’t know where to get my teeth in and start unwinding it.

There’s a few that aren’t, of course. The Klimt’s Whatevers series was basically “this looks cool.” Most of the Art Nouveau stuff, for whatever reason, doesn’t have much narrative, and is just kind of “Look! Cool and swirly!” Sometimes I’ll tack on more about the character–all those portraits of Celadon Toadstool, say–but I think Art Nouveau can just be passively pretty by itself and it’s okay. Possibly that’s why my old drawing instructor hated it.

At the end of the day, though, I can count those exceptions on the fingers of one foot. My work is mostly narrative.

And this is not a bad thing. Actually, this is a very good thing. The advice given to young artists is often full of this–don’t just do a portrait, have something going ON. Draw the viewer in. Make them wonder what’s going on. I am perfectly happy with the fact that my art is chock full ‘o story, given that my art career’s doin’ fairly well, and y’all are here for some reason, so I’m guessing you mostly like it too.


I look around, and the art on my walls, with very few exceptions, has no narrative at all. Big abstracts. Bird kachinas. Barong masks, which are what they are. Photos of statuary of Ganesh. A couple of still lifes my mother did. Again, a few exceptions–one of Gil Bruvel’s posters, Meg Lyman’s angel/devil octopi, and we could make a case that all the frog sex in the Bathroom of Monochromatic Lust is a very old story indeed. Still. The vast majority is mute.

I could stare at an abstract for an hour, but I wouldn’t be wondering if the swirly red bit and the jagged blue line are friends.

So when I get that itch, the change-everything-you-do-artistically itch, which we all get sometimes, god knows–at the bottom, I don’t think it’s about medium or style. I think I get this urge to get away from the most fundamental bit of my art, the urge to narrative. Sometimes I feel like it would be easier in another medium–ceramics, say. There is no story inherent to clay, and when people say “You could paint on clay!” I get this immediate visceral “NO!” because I could paint on anything–clay wants to be something else in my hands. (Usually what it wants to be is a misshapen lump, but that’s neither here nor there.)

The thing is, it’s hard. Narrative is what I DO. I get this urge to paint penises, (possibly because they are sufficiently iconic that they don’t need a story to justify them) and I start doodling them and before I know it, there’s one in a Little Red Riding Hood outfit confronting another penis in a wolf outfit, and I’m wondering what possible artist’s statement could ever pull this off without sounding completely depraved. The narrative creeps in. Storytelling is worked all through my bones, like some benign but intractable disease.

It’s not that I don’t love it. I do. It’s the defining characteristic of my creative life. I could never give it up permanently.

Still, sometimes I get these urges to do something that has no meaning and no story, nothing beyond “Look! Isn’t this cool?” And I don’t really know how to begin. This is so far down at the bottom of what I do that I don’t know how to get my teeth into it.

Does that make any sense?

*Some days I’m significantly worse, but we won’t talk about those…

So I’m feeling artistically frustrated

This is normal. Show prep has moved to the stage of “Everything I have ever painted is shit,” which slides into “I must change my medium/style/genre RIGHT NOW,” which slides into “I am madly inspired to do something that I cannot possibly put in this show.”

In my case, this latter is paintings of giant penises. Not, like, attached to anything. Just, y’know. There. Possibly wearing little robes. (But not hats. Hats would just be silly.) I cannot put them in the show because this is at an art center where they teach small children to make lumpy ceramic ashtrays, and I draw the line there.

Look, I don’t know why it happens either. We could chalk it up to “a week of celibacy is starting to grind Ursula down” and there’s a certain truth to that, and YES, I know some of you have been there for the last decade, and I’m sorry, I deserve no sympathy, but you know how it is when you’re gettin’ some regularly as opposed to how everything goes kinda dormant during the really dry dry spells. Like, um, frogs. The ones that live in the desert. They need water as much as anybody, but when it’s obvious that it’s not gonna rain for the next ten months, they build themselves a little mucus cocoon underground and go into torpor. Thing. Well, I’m out of my mucus cocoon, goddamnit, and…y’know.

Still, that’s a little glib, because we have stuff like “Compensation” and “Valley of Wang,” so obviously this is a recurring artistic theme for me, and I have mostly come to terms with it, although god only knows what my boyfriend’s relatives think of me after reading this stuff. (Hi, guys! Um…at least now you know I’ll never leave Kevin because I’ve decided I’m a lesbian?)

I’m frustrated, I get the urge to paint penises. Big ones. Four feet tall. Giant canvases. That’s so bloody obvious I don’t know if it even qualifies as Freudian.

Either this will have passed by morning, or I’ll spend most of tomorrow painting something that only a very few people will be willing to hang in the house.

Sick of Rectangles

Okay, gang, art supply question.

Say I wanted a piece of Masonite cut. Not into squares or rectangles–we’ve got plenty of those already, god knows–but into a specific shape. A stylized handprint, say, or–shit, I don’t know, a chicken or a giant penis or the red wombat logo or something. Something that isn’t a rectangle.

Is there someplace that a template and I could go to get this done, or is this a case of “Find a tolerant friend with a jigsaw”?

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